A team like Buffalo that is fighting and scratching for the playoffs simply can't lose games to teams below them in the standings, as the Sabres have done to the Islanders and Senators in the last week.
Tonight, the Sabres were bad in every phase of the game.
First, you have to question the coaching decision to start Patrick Lalime for the sixth straight game. Yes, Lalime had played great his previous two games—but the man has played only 12 games all season.
Lindy Ruff tried to ride the hot hand, but he rode it into the ground as Lalime let in at least two soft goals against Ottawa. Now Ruff is almost forced to start his new back-up, Michael Tellqvist, acquired at the trade deadline from Phoenix, against Philadelphia on Monday night.
Logic suggests Philadelphia will be even a tougher challenge for the Sabres than Ottawa. Wouldn't it have made better sense to send out Tellqvist against Ottawa, and let Lalime get recharged for the Flyers?
But you certainly can't put all the blame for this loss on Ruff and Lalime. The defensemen played probably their worst game of the year.
Chris Butler continues to make long passes through center ice that have turnover written all over them. Toni Lydman has developed an allergy to using his body. Jaro Spacek took two bad penalties and after scoring a goal the other night has forgot where the net is again.
Even Craig Rivet made an unbelievably bad play, lofting the puck to the Ottawa defense just as all the Sabres were expecting him to get the puck deep as they went for a change leading to an uncontested Daniel Alfredsson breakaway and goal.
As bad as the defense was, the forwards were even worse.
Derek Roy was a give-away machine. Vanek missed a point blank open net. There were too many drop passes just inside the blue line, too many missed nets, too little desire to take the body in the defensive zone and stop the Ottawa forwards from cycling the puck at will in the Buffalo end.
The key goal occurred just 1:13 after Buffalo had come from behind the second time to to tie the game at 2-2. The puck was fired into the Buffalo end and Derek Roy battled Nick Foligno for it. Lydman went to the corner to help out.
Foligno shrugged off Roy, side-stepped Lydman's weak effort, and executed a sweet give-and-go as he went to the net and stuffed the puck between Lalime's legs.
The goal came at 19:28 of the second period and killed any momentum the Sabres had from tying the game. To the Sabres' credit, they came out in the third period and tied the game again on a nice wrap-around power-play effort by Jochen Hecht.
But once again, just 1:19 later, Chris Campoli scored to give Ottawa a 4-3 lead. This was an awful goal by Lalime, fired from the boards at the face-off hashmark.
Buffalo stepped up the pressure and had chances, with the puck laying uncovered in front of the net as the players battled. But no Sabre could get a stick on it.
Finally, Henrik Tallinder dove to keep the puck in the zone and missed. Drew Stafford whiffed in his attempt to back him up, and Ryan Shannon and Foligno raced to the Buffalo net with only Lydman back.
Lydman sprawled but failed to block Shannon's centering pass, giving Foligno an easy goal past the over-committed Lalime and into the open net.
Yes, it was a bad loss. Only sixteen games left and Carolina and Florida both won, sending Buffalo to 10th place. The Sabres remaining schedule is no cakewalk and they're probably going to need to win at least 11 of their remaining games.
Dominic Moore is a nice role player but he's not putting this team on his back and carrying it to the play-offs himself. They're going to have to do it together. It says here they need Numminen. He's better than Butler, probably better than Lydman too.
I never thought I'd say this but they also need Max, the good Max, who puts pressure on the other team, backchecks, and doesn't give the puck away.
And it sure wouldn't hurt to get Miller back.